These Little Piggies Went to the Stock Market...

  • Share
  • Read Later
And Dolly begat Millie, Christa, Alexis, Carrel and Dotcom... The British company that shocked the world by producing the first cloned sheep announced Tuesday that it had produced five cloned piglets — and not only that, certain genes had been "knocked out" of some organ cells of the above-named piglets, signaling a breakthrough in the medical application of cloning technology: Knocking out the genes prevents a human recipient from rejecting a pig organ transplant. "This opens the door to making modified pigs whose organs and cells can be successfully transplanted into humans — the only near-term solution to solving the worldwide organ shortage crisis," said a spokesman for PPL Therapeutics, the company behind the experiments. Although moral critics of the practice will blanch, the purpose of PPL's cloning experiments — the latest being conducted by the company's U.S. division, in Blacksburg, Va., with a federal government research grant — has been directed not at creating photocopy humans, but at developing biotech donor organs. The company announced it would begin clinical trials of porcine organ transplants in about four years, and its stock price (listed in London) rose by a record 19 percent on the news.

While Dolly's creators revel in their expanding equity, President Clinton and Prime Minister Tony Blair are preparing to make a rare exception to the principle of science-for-profit: the U.S. and British governments will make the results of the Human Genome Project available to the public and, more important, to the scientific community. A statement to be released Tuesday urges all researchers in the program to share their data in the interests of promoting humanity's ability to fight disease. With the latest $448 million the White House has asked Congress to approve for the project, the U.S. government investment in the research since 1993 will rise to $3 billion. Government funding for research motivated only by a desire to serve humanity? That's a rather quaint idea in an age when scientists depend on corporations to fund their research, their breakthroughs jealously patented by companies looking to expand market share. Quaint, but not unwelcome.